‘You know, it doesn’t normally snow on Christmas Eve.’ So says Joan Cusacks’ local, tin-foil wearing narrator as Let it Snow, Netflix’s latest entry to the festive canon, opens. Any slim chance that this might be some ironic nod to the fact that it always snows on Christmas Eve in films such as this dissipates rapidly. This is earnest, predictable material, carved from an algorithmic record of past successes. It’s woke Love Actually for the streaming generation, chockablock with YA stars and extracts from the Richard Curtis back catalogue. There’s no depth nor visceral meaning whatsoever here but it’s likeable enough in bite-size skits.
Executives at Netflix must have wept with delight at the arrival of Laura Solon, Victoria Strousse and Kay Cannon’s script for Let it Snow on the production in-tray. It’s based on the book ‘Let it Snow: Three Holiday Romances’ by Maureen Johnson, Lauren Myracle and YA favourite John Green – he of The Fault in our Stars renown. There’s unrequited love, celebs who just want to be recognised as real people, LGBT lovers, self-empowerment and even a micro-pig. All in one, easy to digest, ninety minuter. Merry Chrismahanukwanzakah one and all! Just watch for the moment a local nativity sees the baby Jesus presented to the goddess Lakshmi, while the shepherds lights a menorah. Add to the mix a casting who’s who of teen entertainment – all from Sabrina the teenage witch and Spider-Man’s friend Ned to Dora the Explorer and Justice Strauss from Netflix’s own A Series of Unfortunate Events – and this can only be a winner.
The most endearing of the multifarious stories to make up Let it Snow’s disjointed plotting is that which finds surprising success with the pairing of Isabela Merced with Shameik Moore. Linked by instant screen chemistry, the duo play street smart Julie, whose place at Columbia is hampered only by her desire to look after her sickly mother, and über cool pop megastar Stuart, who can only dream of a regular life. It’s a kind of Notting Hill union, narratorially peaking with a lovely meet the family sequence, that feels let down by a lack of breathing space. For all the charm of Merced and Moore, Julie and Stuart must compete with the unrequited – unsatisfying – love story Mitchell Hope’s ‘nice on the ice’ skater Tobin, and the love of his life Angie, better known as Duke (Kiernan Shipka). They too vie for attention with Liv Hewson’s Dorrie, her emotionally troubled best friend and the closeted teenager blowing her hot and cold in private and public spaces.
Not helping the overwhelming dearth of depth is the pervading sense that none of this quite rings true. An excess of social correctness undermines the authenticity of director Luke Snellin’s message. The effect is to tick boxes rather than promote inclusivity and to feel forced where only honesty will do. To this end, the characters too suffer the injustice of perfection. Whilst many have faults, these are superficial and all too easily ironed out. Never do they feel in tune with the real youth of today. Not only do these wholesome teens never swear, they even have close with a non-alcoholic party. Given more room to develop, there is no question that each of the film’s plots and characters could have proved far more capable of hitting the spot. Audiences deserve more than archetypes and placeholders and a well trodden journey. Surely, real life can be magical and simultaneously unstructured?
Much in the vein of Love Actually, the arms of Let it Snow increasingly intermingle as the film progresses, meeting its body for a festive finale. Unlike the Richard Curtis classic – which had a good forty minutes more to play with than this – the yarning doesn’t quite hold. Splashes of cheer might sporadically deliver the desired spirit of Christmas but, as a whole, Let it Snow hasn’t half the required consanguinity. It’s not quite the full Christmas cracker, as it were.